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Voters deciding future of Coventry school district

4/11/2013 - South Side Leader
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By Emily Chesnic

Combined bond issue, levy on May ballot

COVENTRY — Voters living in the Coventry Local School District are facing — for the third time — a combined 5.99-mill levy and bond issue, Issue No. 5, on the May 7 Primary/Special Election ballot.

District officials reported poor turnout the previous two times the issue was voted on.

Superintendent Russell Chaboudy said only 27 percent of registered voters participated in the Feb. 5 Special Election.

The same issue failed by 58 percent Feb. 5 and 53 percent last August, according to the Summit County Board of Elections. Regardless, the board unanimously approved placing the issue on the ballot one last time.

In May 2012, the Ohio School Facilities Commission (OSFC) — an independent state agency that helps fund the construction of new schools or renovations to existing ones to improve the education experience — offered the district $11 million toward a $39.3 million construction and renovation project.

To obtain the $11 million being offered by the state, Coventry has until June to approve a combined ballot issue, Chaboudy has explained.

If the issue is approved, the money generated would help fund the construction of a ninth- through 12th-grade high school and gymnasium at the site of the current Erwine Intermediate School. The present high school would be turned into a new elementary school for the district’s kindergarten through fifth-grade students, complete with numerous upgrades, specifically in the area of security, according to district officials.

As part of the project, Coventry Middle School would receive a new heating and cooling system, windows and roof; additional classrooms; and technology, security and paving upgrades, according to district officials.

Officials have held several community meetings this spring to draw awareness to what they say are the district’s urgent maintenance needs at the aging school buildings, and the importance of the combined issue’s passage for the sake of the district’s teachers and students.

District officials have discussed how difficult it is for the students to learn inside a building with leaky roofs, falling ceiling tiles and a lack of heat in some classrooms and extreme heat in others.

District Treasurer Aaron Butts reported the district spends between $250,000 and $300,000 a year to maintain and fix problems in the district’s buildings.

The 1.1-mill permanent improvement levy component of the ballot issue would provide the district with funds to repair and maintain buildings and grounds, he said.

Passage of the combined issue would allow the district to operate in the “positive” for the next five years also, Butts has said.

The 34-year bond issue and levy would cost $15.29 a month for someone younger than 65 who owns a home valued at $100,000, he said. The cost for someone older than 65 who owns a $100,000 home would be $11.47 per month, Butts said.

The treasurer has featured a calculator on his page of the district website, www.coven tryschools.org, so voters can determine how much the combined issue would cost them each month.

If the issue fails for a third time, the 2013-14 school year will shape up differently, according to district officials.

The board held a special meeting March 4 to approve a list of cuts — totaling about $600,000 — that would take effect at the start of next school year if the combined levy and bond issue is defeated again.

If the issue fails, the board first would shut down the Portage Lakes Fitness Center, as it has proven to no longer be financially profitable in its current state, according to district officials.

One administrator and five music teachers would lose their jobs as part of the cuts, district officials have said.

Most of the current music program would not exist in the 2013-14 school year, if the levy is defeated. There would be no elementary music classes, middle or high school choirs or high school marching band, Chaboudy has explained.

In addition, the eliminations would include letting go of one custodian, three lunch aides and five bus drivers. Busing only would be offered to kindergarten through eighth-grade students residing more than 2 miles away from their school buildings. The superintendent said there would be no high school busing.

The cuts also would end middle school and freshman sports and the cheerleading program for seventh through 12th grades. Also, the pay-to-play fee for high school athletes would be increased by $50, according to district officials.

The district has faced negative campaigning, with much of the present controversy surrounding the issue of open enrollment, which allows tax money to follow a student to a district other than his or her own.

Chaboudy said 77.4 percent of all schools in Ohio participate in open enrollment, and this program comes at no cost to the districts.

He said the district operates on a $20 million budget and $4.5 million comes through open enrollment. The program provides Coventry students with a $20 million education at a cost of $16 million, Chaboudy explained.

“In other words, the residents are saving $4.5 million that would otherwise have to be funded through additional millage,” he said. “This same education would cost a taxpayer much more per pupil if not for open enrollment. Currently we are second from the bottom in per pupil costs. Eliminating open enrollment would take us from the bottom of per pupil cost, which is around $8,000, to the top in the area at over $12,000 per pupil.”

“Coventry values a high academic standard of education for our kids where we offer a variety of courses and programs,” Butts said. “Many of these courses and programs would not exist without open enrollment students to help fill the seats.”

If the district eliminated open enrollment, the treasurer said it would lead to much higher taxes for community members.

“We are surrounded by districts that have open enrollment policies — 14 of the 17 districts in Summit County are open enrolled districts, [the] reason being it’s a revenue stream to those districts,” he said. “These districts are doing it because it helps to subsidize their General Fund, and in the end, save their districts’ taxpayers money.”

Board member Robert Wohlgamuth has expressed a desire for the community to put differences aside and support the combined issue specifically for the sake of the students.

“This is about our community and the future of our community,” he said recently. “We need to start pulling together as a community. If the issue does pass, you will see a great deal of excitement in this entire community. It will transform the entire community. We will have something new to be proud of. We will have safe and secure buildings to be proud of. It will increase your property values, and people will want to come and bring their kids here.”

For more information on the levy, visit the district website or www.supportcoventry.com.

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